Time Capsule: One Of The Last Legacy Local Newspaper Correspondents
Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a website that is dedicated to the preservation and documentation of local culture and history. To visit the site, click here. Listen to the audio essay below.
The day was sunny, bright and blue when I hopped into my car and set out to find Mrs. Marty Uhlmann. Now nearly 90 years old, Mrs. Uhlmann is a generational Ozarker with deep roots in the region. She’s also the longtime newspaper correspondent for Dora, a tiny town in Ozark County, and where she grew up.
So far, she’s been writing about Dora for approximately 30 years. She represents one of a dwindling number of such chroniclers who write news items about their small communities for local papers.
In the past, these correspondents kept their neighbors connected with the larger area, sharing the comings and goings of locals, down to even who came for dinner, who was ill, and other need-to-know news. Largely, with time and technological advances, these individuals have disappeared. The hunger for this type of info still exists - now, however, it’s largely met on social media.
"You learn about things in the country," says Mrs. Uhlmann. "It's kind of a grapevine, you know. If you go to church, you get a lot of information there. And I quilt once a week down at Dora. And you've got your telephone, so everybody calls and tells you what's new."
I first learned of Mrs. Uhlmann from Sue Ann Jones, the editor of the Ozark County Times newspaper in Gainesville. She told me that not only is Mrs. Uhlmann unique because of her role as a correspondent, but also because she is the second generation of her family to write the news items for Dora. Her mother, Bess Cropper, wrote them, too, while managing the family’s store in Dora. It was the perfect place for her mother to learn about the local goings-on for her newspaper column.
"Everybody came to the store and they told her everything they knew," says Mrs. Uhlmann of her mother. "She had a big wood stove. People would sit around this stove and talk."
In days when a trip to big cities like Springfield might happen once a year or less for people in rural areas, newspapers — and local stores — were an important part of community life.
The Croppers' store sold many items, such as horse collars, plow points, shoes and clothing, that locals needed. They also purchased items from local folks as well, such as cream, eggs and chickens.
Mrs. Cropper continued writing the column and running the store until her death in 1987. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Uhlmann began writing the column, and she's been doing it ever since.
Some things have changed with time. In the past, Mrs. Uhlmann wrote for both the West Plains Daily Quill and the aforementioned Ozark County Times. Today, she just writes for the Times, and her daughter sends the column electronically the paper after it's written.
"Used to, I would write it by hand and then mail it to them," she says.
Regardless of how they were sent, each of these columns is a snapshot in history from a particular time. They serve to remind us about an Ozarks past, pieces that are kept alive by each of these columns.
Here are a few of the things they said:
"It’s now Monday morning and I donned my coat and went to the garden to gather the last of the tomatoes, green beans and horticulture beans. Seems everything tastes better when you know it is the last. My back will tell me about it tomorrow."
"Several are sick in this area at this time."
"The Dora PTO still has cookbooks for sale at the local stores and from members. They are a nice gift for brides. Nearly everyone in our family has received one."
"On Sunday, Hollis Cropper went over to the farm, went in the barn that has latches on the door that fall down when closed. The bull in the lot pushed the door closed and down went the latch. No way to get out. He tried everything and nothing to work with. Late in the evening he finally got a window out. He began to think if no one came to see about him he might have to stay in the barn all night. He likely will see that bull is not in the lot next time."
The mishap between about the bull and Hollis Cropper, Mrs. Uhlmann's brother, is a memorable moment for her, as it was ultimately printed by a Springfield newspaper after it appeared locally. But another moment of note came when, at one point, she realized that she was also a celebrity.
"Once day I went to the civic center in West Plains for something. And this lady kept looking at me and said, 'Seems like I know you.' I told her who I was, and I said, 'What's your name?' and she lived in Mountain Home. And I said, 'Do you take the West Plains Quill?' and she said yes," recounts Mrs. Uhlmann. The woman had recognized her because of the photo that ran with her column in the paper.
"When they started putting your picture in, people knew you even though they didn't know you," she says with a laugh.